Eating Seasonally in Fall and Winter

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor
Seasonal Produce

You’ve heard it a million times: you should eat seasonal produce. Yeah, fine, whatever, right? Because what people who toss off this axiom never seem to tell you is how to do it.

Sometimes the why is even neglected, so let’s start there. While almost all produce can be grown somewhere year-round, trucking produce across the country or across the world is super fuel-intensive, adding substantially to the carbon footprint of your apple or bell pepper. Veggies that will hold up to shipping have to be picked early, meaning they’re less tasty and less nutritious than those allowed to fully ripen. Plus, eating local means you’re supporting your local food community.

And now for the how. I’ve been trying to eat locally and in season for many years now, so here are a few of my best tips.

Know Your Terms

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The grocery store is full of food claims and terms | image: Dave Parker/Flickr

When first trying to eat seasonally, the many monikers you may encounter can be confusing. Local, regional, all-natural, organic, sustainable?? Which to prioritize, especially when you can’t find all at once?

Deep breaths. Before you hit Ctrl+Alt+Del on this whole local thing, here are a few definitions:

Local: Typically defined as within a hundred miles, though that’s widely debated.

Regional: This is also debated, but generally refers to a wider area, often based on climate or state lines. Think Northern California or the Pacific Northwest.

All-Natural: Minimally processed foods that don’t contain hormones, antibiotics or artificial flavors.

Organic: This is a rigorous certification to meet, and specifies that “guarantees no toxic synthetic pesticides, toxic synthetic herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers are used in production, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are given to animals.”

Transitional: Food grown or raised on a farm/ranch that is moving to organic practices, but isn’t there yet.

Sustainable: A bit of a wild card term, but usually referring to food grown or raised in ways that protect animals, people and the environment, and can theoretically be endlessly replenished.

Once you know what you’re looking at, it’s much easier to eat in season, because you can pick up a piece of produce and immediately check where and how it was grown. With that in mind, here are my favorite ideas for keeping meals interesting while Jack Frost reigns.

Dress Up Your Fruit

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Apples and pears are widely common fall and winter fruit staples | image: CG Hughes/Flickr

In many (most) parts of the country, your fruit options during winter are going to be quite limited. If you’re truly motivated, you can find rhubarb in October and raspberries in January, but I defy you to do it pretty much anywhere in the United States. So instead, I work with what we’ve got.

For instance, apples and pears abound in my region (Oregon and Washington), so I rely on them heavily this time of year. Think baked apples or creamy applesauce. This works just as well with pears.

Beware of thinking apples and pears last all through winter, however. Around January, your friendly local grocery store will usually transition from American-grown fruit to Chilean and Argentinean counterparts with little fanfare. If you’re not careful to check the stickers, you could get trapped.

I also have a lot of fun with salads such as this arugula salad with orange and pomegranate, though I do have to go a bit further afield – California or Arizona for pomegranates, Cali or Florida for oranges. Still, buying organic from the US is often more reliable than buying abroad, where you can’t be sure regulations are being followed.

Adjust Your Veggie Expectations

One thing that used to kill me in fall and winter was a total inability to adjust my veggie requirements…my veg-pectations, if you will. I wanted summer vegetables all year long – bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, and fresh peas. While again, you can find such things this time of year, they aren’t local: they’re usually from Mexico or Central America.

So I made friends with the winter veggies: beets, acorn squash, broccoli, celeriac, parsnip, sweet potatoes, and so much more. Root veggies are especially delicious roasted, while broccoli and cauliflower are excellent steamed or baked with lemon and parmesan.

Once I adjusted my assumptions about what was necessary during the fall and winter, my kitchen became a sanctuary overflowing with local deliciousness. With just a little front-loading to source which veggies are available in your area during the cooler months, and a bit of experimentation to find which recipes you like, yours can too.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.